Lak - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Lak village is above all a food-sharing unit. Households eat separately, but strong sanctions enjoin them to circulate food products whenever there are surpluses. In fact, the people create an artificial surplus in their exchange of komkom, the manioc product that circulates between households on a regular basis. A household will prepare thirty or so packets of manioc bread, send half to other households (which are conveyed by small children), and receive about that much in return. Every household in the village is supposed to participate in the exchange. This exchange relation represents the ideal solidarity of the village. Such solidarity must be contrasted with tondon, "the work of marriage and of death," that is, the exchange relations that define lineages as competitors and partners in complex pigproviding exchange relations. This opposition between lineages is mainly evident in the context of mortuary ritual. Lineage membership overrides the claim of village solidarity only in ritual. Thus, all village men congregate in the men's house of the big-man of the village, despite varied clan membership. Lineages are not localized in villages, and villages include members of many segments.

Political Organization. Political leadership among the Lak is typical of coastal Melanesian big-man systems: a bigman (kamgoi) emerges by working harder than others to amass wealth in the form of pigs; this achievement makes him central in the competitive feasts that define interclan relations and also allows him to purchase control over segment ritual objects, such as the tubuan and duk-duk masks critical for segment leadership. The consummate big-man convinces others to put their labor in his service and in this way rises quite quickly as a leader. He may even use the feasting system to incorporate lineages within his own segment. The Lak bigman hosts mortuary feasts for all deceased of his segment, and he may also manage its collective stock of shell money.

Social Control. Enforcement of ritual sanctions is carried out by the tubuan: masked figures appear at night and fine an offender; earlier, they might have killed the offender using a special axe ( firam). Enforcement of civil disputes is turned over to village courts, in which an elected village member uses public opinion to resolve bride-price disputes, sorcery accusations, and minor infractions of daily etiquette. Disputes may be taken to a provincial officer if they involve bloodshed.

Conflict. Before pacification, feuding was endemic. Roaming bands undertook cannibalistic raids.

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